There are no shortage of articles on the remarkable impact social media has had on both the marketing industry, and society at large. Words such as ‘viral’ and ’hashtag’ are used more now than they ever used to be, terms such as ‘tweeting’ and ‘tagging’ have become a part of everyday conversation, and brands are potentially closer to their consumers than ever before. In marketing terms it’s given birth to a whole host of ways in which brands can conduct conversations with consumers, and build up an idea of how people feel about them – a giant social barometer if you will. Want to know how people feel about your brand or your latest campaign? A quick Twitter search and you’ll get an idea soon enough…albeit a slightly cynical one. As a result, this closeness between brands and individuals has given forth to a new marketing genre: the response film. A new way to build an engaging narrative when there may not necessarily be one. The formula runs as follows: put out an ad, a film, or a piece of content; wait for people to respond to it, then create a film in response to one or more of the comments.
Bodyform are one of the most notable examples, causing quite a stir in October 2012 with their tongue-in-cheek film, The Truth. Created in response to a Facebook post by a man called Richard Neill who poked fun at Bodyform for lying about the truth surrounding periods, the film amassed over 5 million views with the original post receiving just short of 5,000 comments. Although slightly less convincing, Heineken used a couple of YouTube comments as their reason to produce a response film whereby a fictional Heineken PR representative attempts to defend the authenticity of their ‘The Odyssey’ advert. The film ended up garnering more attention online than the ad itself did.
However, the most elaborate example to date comes from Pepsi and their Test Drive 2 prank, uploaded to YouTube just over a week ago. After their first Test Drive ad was vehemently uncovered as a fake by automotive journalist, Travis Okulski, Pepsi took the opportunity to get their revenge on him. Carefully planned, and with a great raison d’etre, the ad has shot to the top of the viral charts with more than 14m views and half a million shares. Whilst it’s questionable as to how much distance there is left to run in ‘prankvertising’, the humble response film feels like it’s just getting started. Not restricted by shock, surprise, or even humour, it allows brands the opportunity to show their customers, and the wider world, that they’re listening. It also affords an informality and sense of personality that isn’t always possible in conventional advertising, and a structure that has storytelling embedded within it. In an age where content is king, the response film has the potential to become a weapon in the royal armoury.